Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse - Statement

– in the House of Lords at 5:36 pm on 21st November 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department 5:36 pm, 21st November 2016

My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer to an Urgent Question delivered by my honourable friend Sarah Newton MP, the Minister for Vulnerability, Safeguarding and Countering Extremism. The Statement is as follows:

“The inquiry was set up to look at the extent to which institutions in England and Wales failed to protect children from sexual abuse. We know the terrible impact that abuse has on survivors, sometimes for many years. As the House knows, following the resignation of the previous chair, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary appointed as chair Professor Alexis Jay. She has a distinguished career in social work and a long-standing dedication to child protection. She led the independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham where she scrutinised the work of social workers and proved her capability to uncover failings across institutions and professions. She is the right person to take this work forward.

Taking the work forward is vital for creating a sense of certainty for victims and survivors. The inquiry has set up 13 strands of investigation, made 250 formal requests for information from over 120 institutions, with 164,000 documents now having been submitted. It has referred roughly 80 cases a month to the police. It has rolled out the Truth Project, providing survivors with the opportunity to tell the inquiry what has happened to them, and more than 500 people have come forward so far.

The inquiry has adequate resources to undertake its work and we will support the inquiry with what it reasonably needs. The inquiry remains independent, which means that it is not part of government and is not run by a government department. Professor Jay is mindful of both the scale of the task and the need to move forward at a pace. That is why she instigated an internal review of the inquiry’s approach to its investigations, exploring new ways to deliver its investigative work while remaining faithful to its terms of reference. She has made it clear that if any changes are proposed, the views of those affected by them will be sought. We expect the outcome of this review soon.

It is crucial that we now give the inquiry the space and the support it needs to get on with its job, getting to the truth for victims and survivors. I urge everyone in the House to do just that”.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 5:38 pm, 21st November 2016

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Answer to the Urgent Question asked in the other place. The independent inquiry into child sexual abuse may be in danger of turning into a soap opera. Unless it has changed its mind within the last few hours, the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association, which I understand represents some 600 victims, seems to have lost all confidence in the inquiry and appears to have done its own version of Brexit.

I have four relatively brief questions for the Minister. First, is it the case that the current fourth Government-appointed chair of the inquiry has not, as claimed, met or contacted the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association since her appointment? Secondly, does the Home Secretary intend to meet the survivors association to find out at first hand the reasons for its apparent declared lack of confidence in the inquiry and its chair, with a view to seeing if any of those reasons can be addressed and the association persuaded to carry on participating fully in the inquiry proceedings? Thirdly, what powers does the inquiry have to require witnesses to attend, or would the thought of an inquiry into child abuse requiring an association representing 600 victims to appear before it simply, in the Government’s view, risk signalling the end of the inquiry as a credible channel for investigating child sexual abuse? Finally, does the Home Secretary intend to review the remit of the inquiry?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, the Home Secretary has no plans to review the remit of the inquiry, which was originally set out with the support of the survivors. The chairman has also stated that she is happy with the inquiry’s remit and has no plans to change it. However, a review will be published in due course on the operation of the inquiry. That was laid out the last time I answered a question on this subject.

On the Home Secretary meeting the chair of the inquiry to discuss the way forward, or indeed the survivors, this is an independent inquiry. I cannot stress that strongly enough. It is for the chair, together with the panel and the survivors’ group, to work through the inquiry in the way it sees fit.

It is indeed sad that Shirley Oaks has chosen to step outside the inquiry, but the door is always open for it to return. I hope it does in due course. On the chair meeting the survivors, I assume that that either has happened or will happen in due course—I assume it has happened already. The survivors are at the heart of the inquiry; it is important that the chair not just listens to the panel, but hears from the survivors themselves.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, changes to the inquiry—four chairs so far, another review and another lead counsel—do not just leave survivors disappointed, as the Minister in the other place said this afternoon; they are retraumatising for survivors. Do the Government have confidence that all those involved are being appropriately consulted about the future of the inquiry? These may be operational decisions, but Ministers must satisfy themselves that this inquiry is being properly run. With 13 strands, 250 lines of inquiry, 164,000 documents, 80 cases a month being referred to the police and 500 victims having come forward so far, is the Minister confident that the inquiry and the police have sufficient resources to deal adequately with these issues in a reasonable timescale?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, all reasonable resources are being provided for the inquiry’s purposes. I underline the point that lack of resource is not an issue. Resources are there to meet the needs of the inquiry. Last year it underspent slightly. I do not think there is any question that there is not sufficient resource in money and manpower.

The Government have confidence in the chairman, having appointed her, but I must underline again that this is an independent inquiry. It is not for the Government to interfere in the inquiry and we have every confidence that it will proceed with pace and clarity, as the chair outlined herself.

Photo of Lord Finkelstein Lord Finkelstein Conservative

I thank the Minister for the Statement. It is obviously massively premature to suggest the chairman of the inquiry stand down, but I have questions about the remit. Given that it took 10 years or more for the Savile inquiry to inquire into a single institution on a single afternoon, how long does the Minister estimate it will take the inquiry to inquire into every institution in the country over 50 years?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My noble friend asks a perfectly reasonable question. We are not holding the inquiry to a timescale, but the chair has indicated that by 2020 she should have concluded a large element of her work. We have absolute confidence in the chairman. She was appointed in view of the fact she had led such a successful inquiry into some of the terrible things that happened in Rotherham.

Photo of Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Labour

My Lords, my Government in Scotland appointed Professor Jay to head up our social work inspectorate in 2006. She is an outstanding individual and, I believe, not only the best appointment to this position but one who should have been appointed earlier, given her track record. I hope we will give her every support. That said, I ask a question I have asked before about the links between this inquiry and the similarly stuttering inquiry in Scotland into survivors of child sexual abuse. Have those links been properly set up, and will information be exchanged between the two inquiries to ensure that the whole of the United Kingdom is covered accurately?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

On the noble Lord’s second point, the entire point of the inquiry is that it is a full and proper inquiry into what happened in the past, both in Scotland and in England and Wales. I am sure there will be sharing of information across the piece. I am pleased he mentioned Professor Jay because she has shown in her past work into Rotherham what an outstanding chairman she is and how she got to the heart of what was a very difficult, complex issue. I am pleased to hear the noble Lord make that point. The Government also have full confidence in her.

Photo of Lord Elystan-Morgan Lord Elystan-Morgan Crossbench

My Lords, will the review direct itself to seek to set a target no later than five years from now for the publication of the final report? Failure to do this may well place a very great strain on human memory. Witnesses will die; others will fail to give coherent evidence.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

The noble Lord makes a very good point. On the current chairman’s intentions, she has said she will operate with pace but also with clarity. The longer time goes on, the harder these things become. We will not press the inquiry to a timetable, but the chairman has laid out quite clearly that she intends to do it with clarity and pace.

Photo of Lord Faulks Lord Faulks Conservative

My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend will appreciate a suggestion pursuant to the internal review as to how the inquiry might be somewhat more focused. Rather than deciding who abused who when, which would involve a trial of some sort, would it not be better to focus on the complaints system so that there is an examination of when a complaint was made, why it was not heard, and, if a complaint was not made, why it was not made so that we can learn about the systems that will protect children in the future? The ambit of that would be much smaller and it should be possible to report much more closely. In asking that question, I declare an interest as being instructed on behalf of the estate of Lord Janner.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My noble friend demonstrates that there are a number of views on how the inquiry should be conducted and just what focus it should take. I totally bow to his rich experience in this area, but I come back to the point that the Government are very clear that this is an independent inquiry. Therefore, the way it is conducted is entirely a matter for the inquiry itself.